Itsukushima-jinja: the Red Torii Shrine of Miyajima

Written by Sandrine Published on 19/08/2016

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Certainly the most emblematic sanctuary in Japan! The name may not speak to you because it is the most popular image of the famous red torii in the water (well, at high tide). This mythical and UNESCO World Heritage Site is located on the island of Itsukushima (厳島), or more commonly known as Miyajima (宮島). Quite easily accessible from the suburbs of Hiroshima, it is a very popular tourist site. So wait until you get people there.

Itsukushima-jinja red torii

Discover the sanctuary of Itsukushima-jinja

The torii is only the postcard that will be brought back on a trip to Japan, but it is part of a relatively well-preserved sanctuary dating from the 12th century. The sanctuary has many buildings connected by wooden footbridges. The complex is built on piles so that the sanctuary is in the middle of the water at high tide, which is one of the main attractions of the site. At low tide, the scenery is less romantic because the blue water leaves room for the mud, but if you pay attention to it, you will see thousands of crabs coming out of the sand and activating (cleaning, fighting, looking for food...).

Itsukushima-jinja shrineItsukushima-jinja shrine by night

The site was already a sacred place since the 6th century, but it was in 1168 that the sanctuary was built by Taira no Kiyomori, a powerful man of the time. The sanctuary has since maintained its present form, although it has been restored. It is also possible to visit it every day between 6:30 am and 6:00 pm.  The interior of the rooms is not visited, but we pass in front of most of them from the pontoons. Hopefully, you will be able to attend one of the many Shinto celebrations held there.

In the shrine of Itsukushima-jinja at low tideStatue inside Itsukushima-jinja shrine

The famous red torii, feet in the water

The imposing red torii is located just over 150 metres in the sands of the bay, indicating that the sanctuary was traditionally reached from the sea. The island being considered sacred, one arrived directly by boat without treading the ground of the island. With the tide, it is important to know that the torii is not always in the water, as the sanctuary is accessible by boat only a few hours a day.

The torii is very impressive with its 16 meters high. At low tide, it is possible to access it by walking on the sand filled with water and reaching the feet of wood. The low tide is also an opportunity for many Japanese people to come to harvest the crabs and shellfish that abound. That's why you'll probably see many people squatting in the sand with a bucket in their hand.

Sunset in Miyajima

The most beautiful pictures are probably taken at sunset. This time is also a good opportunity to enjoy the island in complete tranquillity once the flood of tourists has returned. To do this, you will have to stay on the island. Watch out for expensive accommodations, but what a joy to be able to walk along the seaside when the place is almost deserted. In May 2015, we tried the experiment and we were supposed to be only about forty or so at sunset just behind the torii. An almost magical moment.

Sunset on the torii

At nightfall, the torii and sanctuary light up. Boat tours are organized at sunset, but apart from polluting the sea and the view, the concept is not very interesting. The view is very beautiful from the shore, the boat ride will not bring you much more.

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